Project PENN: A Philadelphia Family Court-based outreach program
Arising from a 2005 Field Center research study that examined the experiences of families awaiting dependency proceedings in Philadelphia Family Court, Project PENN took advantage of the “teachable moment” while families are present at the courthouse. The realization that the majority of families were experiencing a long wait before seeing a judge, with little privacy, limited knowledge of the court process, and lack of information on social service programs, prompted the Field Center to develop this innovative program. With the full support of the court’s administrative judge, Project PENN opened its doors in 2009 and continued through 2020.
Through Project PENN, families met individually, in a private office with graduate students who assisted them in identifying concrete resources in the community to address the needs that frequently cause stress and disruption in families and place children at risk for harm. Families received access to a comprehensive resource directory (developed and updated regularly by Field Center student interns), web-based resources, and clear and understandable brochures on topics such as housing, employment, food, clothing and healthcare. By helping families identify and prioritize their needs and increasing their knowledge of and access to community resources, Project PENN both teaches problem-solving skills and supports families in problem solving. Project PENN staff provided information and made referrals for families, accessing both the phone and internet, from their office located in the large waiting room at the Philadelphia Family Court.
Data was tracked on program utilization and was incorporated in the court’s annual report.